LONDON (AFP) - Christian Benteke was on target again as Liverpool won 1-0 at Sunderland and made a significant impact on the Premier League as they moved up four places and alongside Manchester United.
Benteke's goal had earned them a 1-0 win over Leicester City to end a poor run of form by Jurgen Klopp's team, and he claimed the decider at the Stadium of Light as Sunderland slipped to their fifth successive defeat.
It was an encouraging win for Liverpool, but Sunderland are in serious trouble and in danger of being cast adrift.
They rarely threatened to find a way past Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and Liverpool could have scored more, notably when Benteke went clear in the closing stages.
The goal he scored came only 22 seconds into the second-half after an opening 45 minutes when Roberto Firmino was involved in a one-man attempt to put Liverpool ahead and improve his disappointing record in front of goal.
The Brazilian had scored only once in 21 appearance, hitting the target in Liverpool's excellent 4-1 victory at Manchester City. He has still contributed much to Liverpool's season, but it represented a poor return for a midfield with a licence to join in attacks.
Firmino certainly looked in the mood to punish them further, particularly in the first-half when he went close to beating keeper Vito Mannone on three occasions.
His first involvement gave no hint of the problems he was to cause Sunderland as his heavy touch deprived him of a chance created by a smart pass from his fellow-Brazilian Philippe Coutinho.
For the rest of the opening half, it was Mannone v Firmino, with the Sunderland keeper coming out on top.
Mannone, who had already saved a 30-yard effort from Nathaniel Clyne, produced a remarkable effort when he went to his left to touch Firmino's 25th minute shot against the post.
The second save came 11 minutes later when Mannone reacted well to a header from Firmino, preventing controversy since Sunderland were adamant that Clyne had handled before he cross from the right touchline.
Firmino was frustrated again when he was the beneficiary of a well-worked corner routine. He was left in space for a fierce shot that was goalbound before it failed to find its way through a crowded area.
Sunderland could offer little in response to Liverpool's first-half authority, although striker Jermain Defoe did give Mignolet a rare moment of concern with a 15th minute shot that the Liverpool keeper handled well.
Benteke slid in his goal immediately after the restart after Clyne's ball was played into his path by Adam Lallana.
It was his sixth goal against Sunderland - more than against any other Premier League club - and the 38th league goal they have conceded this season and Liverpool must have sensed they could add to that miserable record.
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce's decision to sign Lorient centre-back Lamine Kone during the transfer window already looked like a timely move, but the loss of another defender means Kone is likely to go straight into the side when he arrives.
Kone was watching on the sidelines and will not have been impressed by what he witnessed, particularly from a Sunderland attack that continued to struggle to make an impact.